A five-month investigation by The Boston Globe has provided new insight into the history and character of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings in April this year, including suggestions that Tamerlan was dealing with mental illness.
The allegation was previously suggested in another major profile piece by Rolling Stone, but the Globe goes deeper into that proposition. Anna Nikaeva, a Chechen living in the Newton area, said that Zudeibat Tsarnaev, the family matriarch, didn't let herself see the possibility of her favourite Tamerlan's sickness.
He had told his mother that he felt there were two people living inside of him. I told her, ‘You should get that checked out.’ But she just said, ‘No, he’s fine.’ She couldn’t accept the tiniest criticism of him. But obviously she was thinking about it enough that she brought it up.
Don Larking, a friend who went with Tamerlan to mosque, said that after they became close, Tamerlan confided about the voices in his head, suggesting that it was "majestic mind control":
'You can give a signal, a phrase or a gesture, and bring out the alternate personality and make them do things. Tamerlan thought someone might have done that to him.'
The person inside him, as Tamerlan described it to Larking, 'was someone who wanted to control him to make him do something.'
After Tamerlan returned to the U.S. after some time in his native Dagestan, Larking said he became more serious, and the last time he spoke about the voices, it was in fearful tones.
Tamerlan, a former boxer, was killed in a shootout in Watertown, and some called for his brain to undergo study to check for psychosis or trauma. The Globe says it appears that Tamerlan's family did not pursue treatment for him.
Other revelations from the remarkable long-read include:
A drug-dealing Dzhokhar should have flunked out of school, but did not.
Though the profile provides more vivid background on his older brother, it does shed light into the kind of person Dzhokhar was – a charmer who was able to get himself out of tough situations. Though anointed the "brains" of the family, he did not enjoy nearly as much support as his older brother in his wrestling or even academic pursuits. He was a standout wrestler, but his coach said he didn't see a family member once in three years; when he graduated from the Community Charter Schools of Cambridge school, only the family's landlady attended.
While attending UMass Dartmouth, Dzhokhar would sacrifice his grades for a "robust" business selling marijuana in high volumes. In fact, the Globe found that in normal circumstances, he would have not been allowed to return for spring term this year due to the number of classes he failed:
Yet college officials, remarkably, authorized Jahar to sign up for the spring term of 2013. It is unclear who did so or why, but under normal college procedures someone would have had to lift the “hold” that is placed on files of failing students like Jahar and only after being convinced the student had “special” circumstances that argued for leniency.
An anonymous UMass professor said that this "probably only intensified his sense of intellectual superiority and invulnerability."
The link is tenuous and the newspaper doesn't quite make the leap, but notes that Tamerlan did not attend the wake or funeral of his close friend Brendan Mess, who with two other friends were brutally slain. His friends were "puzzled" by Tamerlan's reaction, who said that Mess had "gotten in with some bad people." Not long after that, Tamerlan left for Dagestan, a trip that many allege took him irrevocably down the radical route.
The Tsarnaev patriarch, Anzor, may have lied about a history of persecution to get into the United States.
Anzor, who now lives in Dagestan, has said that he was the victim of persecution in Kyrgyzstan and that was why the family sought refuge in the U.S., which the Globe debates. Experts say there was no such persecution for Chechens at the time the family lived in Kyrgyzstan, certainly nothing that would require asylum; a family friend even alleges that “he made that up … so that the Americans would give him a visa.”
Anzor did suffer from screaming fits and possible PTSD, which lends credence to this suggestion from a former co-worker of his now ex-wife Zubeidat:
Zubeidat told her that Anzor had “tried to prosecute” some members of the Russian mob involved in an illegal trading venture. “When the case was over, the mob came and took Anzor for one week and tortured him so severely that he almost died. When they were done they dumped him out of their truck in the middle of nowhere,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Zubeidat went to the hospital and when she saw how horribly beaten he was she said that she realized they had to get out of the country,” the associate said.
The mob, according to this account, took one macabre, parting shot. Before Anzor could leave the hospital, someone took the family’s German shepherd, cut off its head, and deposited it on the Tsarnaevs’ doorstep.
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This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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